- Best time of year to visit for winter adventures (Dec-Feb)
- Average temperatures during our visit -24c (January)
Visiting Jasper National Park in the height of winter is a thrilling experience! The extreme cold allows visitors to explore the depths of the wondrous Maligne Canyon Icewalk and witness ice forming on a frozen lakes.
Jasper is an astonishingly beautiful destination anytime of the year. We had the opportunity to visit Jasper in the darkest depths of winter, which provided a stark contrast to the summer season – here’s what we experienced and saw!
We started our three night mini-vacation from Canmore, via one of the most scenic roads in the world – the Icefields Parkway. Expect four hours drive time but you’ll want to allow more time to stop along the way. Don’t forget to fuel-up before you hit the road, services are sporadic at best – this is gloriously remote terrain.
We stayed at Bear Hill Lodge. It’s great for being dog-friendly and centrally located near downtown, while the large cabins and rooms feature wood burning fireplaces. Best of all, the beds are really comfortable, with European-style feather duvets and cotton sheets. Such restful sleeps afforded us the energy to recharge for more adventures…
One of the most scenic drives in the world, the Icefields Parkway’s 232km sweep yields some stunning sights along the way. We saw ice climbers at the Weeping Wall, Bow Lake, and countless majestic glaciers. If you are lucky you might see goats negotiating some of the highest mountains in the Canadian Rockies.
Our favourite stop was the Columbia Icefield – we parked across from the visitor centre and from there, walked along the closed road towards the great, looming glacier. It was a snowy, windy day when we were there, which only contributed to the bleakly beautiful atmosphere of the surroundings.
Maligne Canyon Icewalk
A highlight for many visitors to Jasper any time of year, Maligne Canyon offers a truly special experience in winter. The Malign Canyon Icewalk, accessible only in these months. On one of the coldest days of the darkest months, we ventured into the epic canyon around noon. We started by clambering up a great boulder, worn away by the flow of water over millennia. This canyon reveals so much beauty in the varied terrain, there to discover as you traverse it. You can walk atop a frozen river. In some places, the canyon is so tight, you can touch each side with outstretched arms. While elsewhere it opens up and outward to show off high waterfalls and other extraordinary geological features. As you walk, the resonant cavity under the ice responds with a great BOOM, the arctic drum beating with every footfall.
Patricia and Pyramid Lakes
Another eerie and awe-inspiring highlight of the trip was stepping out onto Patricia and Pyramid Lakes. The first time we visited we heard strange noises, thinking it was the echo of a car door being closed. Later, when we ventured out at night for some long-exposure astrophotography in temperatures below -30C, those same booming noises were undeniably more present… “What the heck was that? We should go back to the shore…now!!” Then, another BOOM accompanied by vibrations underfoot. It is thrilling, but there is little danger if you are cautious!
Valley of the 5 Lakes
We love to travel in the off-season, when we can experience that splendid isolation such landscape offers – less available in the summer season with its selfie-stick wielding crowds! The Valley of the 5 Lakes provided just that. While before, in the summer months, parked cars stretched all the way down the highway, this visit we had the place to ourselves! We soon learned why we were the only souls braving it – the trail on the far side of the lakes was a solid block of ice. Foolishly, we had forgotten our ice-cleats which made our walk (or more accurately, tentative clamber) exciting for all the wrong reasons! Still, we survived it and marvelled at the grand and stunning sights, seeing the crystal clear blue glacier water travelling under and through the winter ice.
Top 3 Tips
- Stay safe. We take calculated risks on our adventures based on our experience and skill level. We always recommend going with a professional guide if you are uncertain. Never walk on frozen lakes alone or at night (unless you know that the ice is more than 4” thick.)
- Dress for the weather and you’ll never be cold! Wool is your friend, so wear layers – warm toque, woolen socks and warm gloves are a must. When we were there it went below -30c, so you really can’t take your gloves off for even a minute – it’s brutal! Also, invest in some slip-on ice-cleats, else one slip on the ice and your adventure is over.
- Make the most of your adventuring time. To get the most out of your visit, try to go out for sunrise, sunsets, mood rises, and the darkest part of the night. You might hear a few coyotes howling, but you’ll be fine.
Jasper National Park was amazing. I loved tracing all the wild animal smells and running free on the frozen lakes, even if they sometimes hurt my tender paws. The sound and vibrations of the ice forming freaked me out, but I’m brave – one time, I tried to chase the hairline fractures in the snow. We spotted two coyotes from the window in our room but I didn’t need to bark or growl… we went on so many adventures that my owners wore me out and had to leave me at home for some R&R!